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Ella Baker Quotes on Civil Rights, Activism, and More

The Ella Baker quotes featured below show her opinions on activism, the fight for civil rights, and prominent civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. 

An early civil rights activist, Ella Baker is an inspiration whose work helped put the 1960s civil rights movement in motion.

What have you learned about the civil rights movement? 

Much of Ella Baker’s activism came from being the founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

She mentored many prominent figures through this organization, including Rosa Parks and Stokely Charmichael.

The SNCC played a significant role in organizing a variety of different prominent civil rights events including the March on Washington in 1963.

Baker spoke out about civil rights, racism, and sexism, whether within American culture or in the civil rights movement itself. 

Learn more about Ella Baker’s life and career as an activist below. 

And don’t forget to also check out these Martin Luther King Jr quotes celebrating hope and dignity.

Ella Baker quotes about civil rights

1. “Oppressed people, whatever their level of formal education, have the ability to understand and interpret the world around them, to see the world for what it is, and move to transform it.” – Ella Baker

2. “Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.” – Ella Baker

3. “Singing alone is not enough; we need schools and learning.” – Ella Baker

4. “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed… It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.” – Ella Baker

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5. “I have always felt it was a handicap for oppressed peoples to depend so largely upon a leader, because unfortunately in our culture, the charismatic leader usually becomes a leader because he has found a spot in the public limelight.” – Ella Baker

6. “Even if segregation is gone, we will still need to be free; we will still have to see that everyone has a job. Even if we can all vote, but if people are still hungry, we will not be free.” – Ella Baker

7. “Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all of mankind.” – Ella Baker

8. “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” – Ella Baker

Powerful Ella Baker quotes

9. “In order to see where we are going, we not only must remember where we have been, but we must understand where we have been.” – Ella Baker

10. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” – Ella Baker

11. “Give light, and people will find the way.” – Ella Baker

12. “The struggle is eternal. The tribe increases. Somebody else carries on.” – Ella Baker

13. “This may only be a dream of mine, but I think it can be made real.” – Ella Baker

Also, check out these powerful civil rights quotes striding towards equality.

Ella Baker quotes about being an activist

14. “I have always thought that what is needed is the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership in others.” – Ella Baker

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15. “You didn’t see me on television, you didn’t see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come.” – Ella Baker

16. “I didn’t break the rules, but I challenged the rules.” – Ella Baker

17. “The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use, and it could only be used if they understood what was happening and how group action could counter violence.” – Ella Baker

18. “I’ve never credited myself with a professional life. But, basically, it has been that.” – Ella Baker

19. “In ’32 we organized the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League and had some degree of success in terms of establishing stores and certainly buying clubs in various sections of the country. I was designated as – I don’t know what exactly – I believe it was director. I’m not sure what it was, but it had to do with getting out the necessary mail and all of that – organization.” – Ella Baker

20. “There is also the danger in our culture that because a person is called upon to give public statements and is acclaimed by the establishment, such a person gets to the point of believing that he is the movement.” – Ella Baker

21. “I began to feel that my greatest sense of success would raise the level of masses of people, rather than the individual being accepted by the Establishment. So, this kind of personal thinking, combined with, say, even the little bit more radical thinking – because at one time the pacifist movement was a very radical concept.” – Ella Baker

22. “I think personally, I’ve always felt that the Association (NAACP) got itself hung-up in what I call its legal successes. Having had so many outstanding legal successes, it definitely seemed to have oriented its thinking in the direction that the way to achieve was through the courts.” – Ella Baker

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23. “My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders.” – Ella Baker

24. “One of the things that has to be faced is the process of waiting to change the system, how much we have got to do to find out who we are, where we have come from and where we are going.” – Ella Baker

25. “I had known, number one, that there would never be any role for me in the leadership capacity with SCLC. Why? First, I’m a woman. Also, I’m not a minister. And second, I am a person that feels that I have to maintain some degree of personal integrity and be my own barometer of what is important and what is not.” – Ella Baker

When’s the last time you stood up for what you believed in? 

Ella Baker’s 50-year career as an activist encouraged millions of Americans to understand the power of their voice, especially students.

The SNCC was a way for students in the 1960s and 1970s nationwide to make a difference within the civil rights movement and find strength in numbers.

In the SNCC, Baker also helped many women get involved in the civil rights movement. 

No matter your age, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background, know that you have the power to make a difference.

Your voice matters, and chances are there are thousands, if not millions of people around the globe that feel the same way you do. 

Is there an inspiring Ella Baker quote that you have to share with your loved one?

Let us know your favorites below!

Nia Simone McLeod
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1 Comment
  1. Ms Garoche

    October 29, 2020 at 3:38 AM

    “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” This is the only thing that can make true democracy, against blind belief. And the most hated by the powerful indeed.

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